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Following a series of evictions worldwide, including that of the camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral, the Occupy movement is actively assessing its modes of organising and thinking about how these might be developed in the next phase of the movement.
Here in the UK, the eviction of the St Paul’s camp has revived age-old debates on the left about the strengths and limits of horizontal, non-hierarchical organising. Alongside acknowledgement of Occupy’s massive success in putting a structural critique of the financial system on the public agenda, many sympathisers are repeating the same critical questions: what are the demands? what is the strategy? did it make a difference?
Of course these are important questions, but they are rooted in an understanding of politics focused overwhelmingly on immediate and institutionalised results. Occupy is not a political lobbying organisation trying to formulate policy messages to communicate to elites. Assessing it solely on these terms misses a whole dimension of the change that Occupy and other horizontal spaces are advancing. This involves a lasting social transformation – a slow but sticky building of empowerment, political voice and expectations of political involvement, and skills and methods of collective organising that can be shared with others and transferred to other spaces. This transformation, hidden in cultural forms, is an essential prerequisite to securing lasting political change. But it is hard to measure, or even see happening, and therefore often undervalued.
How, for example, could we measure the potential for change created by the debates and workshops in the ‘Tent City University’? Or the personal transformations experienced by those who engaged in participative decision making for the first time in their lives in the general assemblies? What about those who learnt other new practical and organising skills that they will take to the next occupation, protest or mobilisation and help make that stronger and more effective? Clues to potential answers lie in comparable movements of the recent past. Significant numbers of people trained and empowered through the Climate Camp network play key catalyst roles in UK Uncut, the student movement and Occupy, to name only a few.
It is important to ensure that the lessons emerging from Occupy inform the future of the struggle against corporate power. In this issue, Josh Healey reports on experiences from Occupy Oakland that highlight what he sees as some of the limits of non-hierarchical organising, including how small groups have taken the banner of Occupy Oakland towards more violent tactics, which he argues has served to undermine its popular base.
Elsewhere this issue looks at other attempts to build democratic and participatory counter institutions. One such model is that of co-operatives, which Robin Murray argues can form the basis of an alternative, more equitable, more people-centred economy. As with Occupy, a big part of the transformative potential of co-ops lies in the ongoing process that co-operative members engage in as individuals and collectives. Of course, co-ops also have potential to deliver very concrete economic change: greater worker control over and participation in business decision-making usually goes hand in hand with greater wage equality, more dignified and fulfilling working lives, and greater accountability of businesses to local communities. In summary, co-operatives are one of the key ways by which we can, as John Holloway puts it, ‘stop creating capitalism’.
However, there is no guarantee that individual co-ops will act in broader societal interests and not solely in the interests of their members. The experience of US energy co‑operatives which supported coal and nuclear power and the Conservatives’ drive to use co-ops as a cover for dismantling the public sector are evidence of this. Ensuring that the co-op movement is kept radical and underpinned by solidarity and sustainability across national borders is essential if its full transformatory potential is to be unleashed. This requires that co-ops themselves be in constant and dynamic interaction with broader social movements.
The lasting impact of such collective forms of organising on social relations and political identities is demonstrated in Francesca Fiorentini’s analysis of the legacy of the social movements that arose in Argentina in response to its debt crisis ten years ago. This can be seen specifically through the ‘recovered enterprises’ movement, where workers occupied and took control of businesses that were on the brink of bankruptcy and ran them as self-managed co-operatives.
With the devastating Health and Social Care Act set to unleash a period of unprecedented chaos in our health services, The Lancet editor Richard Horton predicts that people will die as a result of government’s insistence on competition, while GP Jon Tomlinson highlights the need to build ‘Occupy Healthcare’ – a movement to reject the idea that the healthcare needs of society can be commodified and governed by market logic.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali